November 23, 2017

Phone Consultations

Thank you for contacting me with regard to your student loan questions. Because of some changes in the student loan law landscape, I have changed how I offer my services.

The good news for you is that in many cases, modifying your student loan payment terms has become a good bit easier. If your loans are government issued or guaranteed, the income based repayment programs have been expanded and, perhaps equally important, the Department of Education website has become much easier to navigate.

If your student loans were issued by private banks, you still do not have a lot of options, but I intend to cover in the paragraphs below the few options that you do still have.

Now, about the change in my law practice. I am still available to answer questions, offer legal advice or help you implement a plan to get your student loan debt under control. However, I can no longer offer free consultations.

I am sure you can understand that running a law practice is a business and I can’t stay in business if I spend my day offering free advice to folks who do not hire me. My experience has been that most of the time folks like you who are researching student loan debt on the Internet are smart enough to understand the (vastly improved) Department of Education web site.

So, in the paragraphs that follow I am going to provide to you at no cost most of what I have been offering potential clients in formerly free consultations. Not surprisingly this free information comes with a disclaimer: the information that follows does not constitute legal advice nor does it create an attorney-client relationship. If you need advice specific to your situation you should retain a lawyer. Finally, the laws related to student loan debt change from time to time and you should not assume that anything you read on the Internet is totally accurate or up to date.

What follows will be an overview of how I see the student loan debt resolution process, including a number of free resources you can use to better understand your options. If you get confused, need a more detailed explanation about any step in the process or if you need legal advice, you can contact me. My current rates are as follows:

Step One – Information Gathering

Before you can hope to resolve your student loan debt problem you need to know what you owe and to whom. If you have not already done so, you should set up a file where you keep bills, documentation and collection letters.

Next you should look for information about your student loans in two places:

1. The NSLDS web site – https://www.nslds.ed.gov/npas/index.htm
2. Your credit reports – https://www.annualcreditreport.com

The NSLDS site will provide you with a list of all government issued or government guaranteed loans and their payment status. Private student loans do not appear on your NSLDS.

Your credit reports should provide you with information about both government and private student loans. My experience has been that 95% of the time, your student loan information will appear at one or both of these places. Yes, there are exceptions – that’s where you rely on your memory, your gut and, of course, your student loan file.

Step Two – Dealing with Government Student Loans

If you owe on government issued or guaranteed student loans, your next stop should be the Department of Education web site, which you can find here: https://www2.ed.gov/fund/grants-college.html

As of July, 2014 this page displays 2 columns – “I’m Looking for a Loan” and “I already have a loan.” Under the I already have a loan column there are 8 choices relating to repayment, consolidation, curing default, cancellation of certain loans and deferment.

Most of the folks I speak with are interested in the Income Based Repayment plans. If you click on the IBR section you will find a wealth of information about how the IBR programs work.

The Department of Education also offers a very helpful “Repayment Estimator” – which you can find here: https://studentloans.gov/myDirectLoan/mobile/repayment/repaymentEstimator.action

The estimator will prompt you to log in to your NSLDS account and it will pull your actual loan information. Further, the estimator will only allow you to choose repayment options that are actually available. The estimator will calculate and display your various options, and once you choose an option, the system will walk you through filling out the paperwork.

Once you complete and submit the paperwork you need to make the payments and update the Department of Education annually (usually) about your income.

Step Three – Dealing with Private Student Loans

As discussed on my website, there is not much you can do with private student loans. I sometimes get invited to speak to parents of high schoolers and my advice to them is to avoid private student loans entirely because there are so few options when it comes to repayment.

Yes a private college education sounds great, but how many 17 or 18 year olds really understand what it means to face a $500, $750, $1,000 or higher loan repayment – especially in a tight job market. If you are going to take on a student loan, subsidized Department of Education loans are the most preferable, followed by unsubsidized government loans. If you need to borrow more than what the government will lend you, then find a cheaper school.

If you do have private student loans, there are currently very few options.

There companies out there that offer refinancing options. A helpful website to visit is https://studentloanhero.com. You can also Google “private student loan refinance” for other options, but be careful to avoid scams.

You can use the bankruptcy process to delay collection, and in very limited cases, wipe out private student loans. Bankruptcy can also be helpful in eliminating other debts and providing for the surrender of homes or cars so that you have the money to pay your private student loans. I have been a personal bankruptcy lawyer for over 25 years and I can tell you that student loans are a leading cause of personal bankruptcy.

You can try to work out a repayment plan with your private student loan lender. I rarely see this work but as private student loan lenders come under more political pressure they may begin to loosen the reins a little.

If I had to guess, I would say that there is some chance that Congress will address private student loan debt. In what form and when, I can’t say but it would be wise to keep an eye out for changes.

Step Four – Related Remedies

Anyone who has ever dealt with bill collectors knows what it is like to be harassed for payment. In the case of student loan debt bill collectors can be especially nasty because they know that student loan debt generally cannot be discharged in bankruptcy and that many borrowers do not know about all of their repayment options.

Third party debt collectors are subject to the rules set out in the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and if a collector violates the FDCPA rules you may have a claim for damages against that collector.

Often the best evidence of harassment arises from phone conversations so whenever possible I recommend that student loan debtors record their conversations with debt collectors – student loan or otherwise. Every state has different rules about recording phone calls – some states only require one party (i.e., you) to consent to the recording, while other states require you to get prior verbal permission to record calls.

Many smart phones allow for recording of calls, or you can pick up an inexpensive digital records and earphone microphone.

Learn more about FDCPA violations on my website http://www.fdcpahelp.com.

You also may have a cause of action against your student loan servicing agency for improper reporting on your credit report (a Fair Credit Reporting Act) claim.

When to Hire a Lawyer

I hope that the above information will help you navigate the sometimes troubled waters of student loan debt management and payments. If you are overwhelmed and need to buy a little of my time to clarify what options are out there, to ask for advice about how to proceed, or for help putting a repayment plan into place, please let me know. You can email me directly here. I accept PayPal or credit card payments through PayPal.

However you decide to proceed, I wish you the best of luck and best of success in resolving your student loan issues.

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Jonathan Ginsberg

Jonathan Ginsberg has served the Atlanta area community as a personal bankruptcy and student loan debt management lawyer for over 25 years. Contact Jonathan for straight answers to difficult debt problems.